Following the near-obliteration of American chestnut (Castanea dentata [Marsh.] Borkh.) by the chestnut blight early in the last century, interest in its restoration has been revived by efforts to develop a blight-resistant form of the species. We summarize progress and outline future steps in two approaches: (1) a system of hybridizing with a blight-resistant chestnut species and then backcrossing repeatedly to recover the American type and (2) transformation of American chestnut with a resistance-conferring transgene followed by propagation and conventional breeding. Several decades of effort have been invested in each approach. More work remains, but results indicate that success is within practical reach. The restoration of C. dentata to its native habitat now appears to be less a matter of time and conjecture than ever before in 90 years of work by public and private entities. The difficult and protracted task of incorporating extraspecific genes for resistance into a tree species with lethal susceptibility to a naturalized pathogen represents perhaps the most extreme of restoration challenges. Its pursuit by a small non-governmental organization supported primarily by philanthropy and volunteers may serve as a model for other species threatened by exotic pathogens or insects.
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